Seeking security in a hostile world.
“No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.“ (Edward W. Howe)
In the wake of the 26/11 tragedy, preaching Krishna consciousness to the youth of Mumbai presented new challenges. The young are thirsting for revenge. As I search for answers and seek strength through spiritual practices, I am also faced with the challenge of counseling young, disturbed minds.
“What’s the relevance of Krishna consciousness now, if you can’t usher in a political revolution?” challenged a student. I assured my restless audience that we certainly have to do the needful to protect innocent citizens, and we all stand united to combat terrorism. However, at another level we also need to individually transcend problems that seem overwhelming at the present, but are blinding us to the real problems facing all of us, all the time. A spiritual direction and purpose enables us to withstand repeated tragedies of various kinds, imposed on us time and again. Terrorism or no terrorism, the ugly reality of birth, death, old age and disease always stares at us, threatening to prolong our sojourn in this world (Bg. 13.9). A spiritual practice transforms our consciousness, and helps us remember the Supreme Lord at the time of death. This ensures that we do not take another birth in this miserable material world, but rather, join the Supreme Lord in His abode, for an eternal life of bliss (Bg. 8.16).
“But the tragedy has consumed my consciousness. I can’t chant, I see no hope,” confessed another devotee. My thoughts went back to the history of the Indian independence struggle of the 1920’s . . .
BIGGER EMERGENCY THAN TERRORISM
The nation was up in arms against British terrorism. General Dyer had ordered firing on innocent citizens gathered at a peace rally at Jalianwala Bagh, Punjab. Thousands had died under England’s persecution, and now the Indians wanted independence from British rule. The streets of Calcutta, the then Indian Capital, burned, and riots sprung up. Anger and violence pervaded the society, while Gandhi called upon educated youth to boycott everything British. Young Abhay Charan (Srila Prabhupada’s house-hold name), in his first meeting with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Öhakura, his spiritual master, voiced his support to the Gandhian cause. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had urged Abhay to spread Lord Caitanya’s spiritual message to the English-speaking world. Abhay protested, “As long as we are a dependent nation, Krishna consciousness has to wait.” The whole country would have agreed with Abhay, but Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati boldly declared, “Krishna consciousness is the real emergency, and it can’t wait for independence. Lack of spiritual awareness is the only problem, and God consciousness is the only solution.”
Six decades have passed since Indian independence. The saga of untold human deprivation and abuse now inflicted by the Indians themselves is a chilling reminder of the terrible times we are living in. Recession, corruption, unemployment, inflation, starvation due to hoarding of essential food grains, and breaking of the family unit are a few of the rising ills affecting the hapless millions. Each issue grabs the media attention for some time, until another exciting story or scandal agitates the population. Soon, another “breaking news” hits the screen, and families sit glued to their TV sets. The former President of India, Abdul Kalam lamented, “In India we read and hear only about death, sickness, terrorism, crime.” One after another the mind is bombarded with disturbing news and terror images, and the masses are convinced “Krishna consciousness can wait.”
The Srimad-Bhagavatam exposes the lives of such men and women:
nrnam santi sahasrasah
“Those persons, who are materially engrossed, being blind to the knowledge of ultimate truth, have many subject matters for hearing in human society, O Emperor.” (Bhag. 2.1.2)
SRILA PRABHUPADA'S APPEAL TO TRANSCEND
Srila Prabhupada’s life changed after that first meeting with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, and he dedicated himself to the cause of spreading God consciousness to the misdirected civilization. Years later, as Srila Prabhupada started Back to Godhead magazine, India had been forced to enter the Second World War. As bombs dropped in Calcutta, Srila Prabhupada was busy writing the timeless spiritual wisdom of the Bhagavad-gita, and begging humanity to solve the real problems of life by combating the enemies within lust, envy, anger, and greed the root cause of terror without.
A couple of decades later in New York, as Srila Prabhupada managed his fledgling ISKCON, the youth voiced angry protests against America’s participation in the Vietnam War. Srila Prabhupada challenged his young followers to rise above the temporary problems, and address the soul’s prolonged suffering in this material world, being encaged in this temporary body. Srila Prabhupada revealed that the Vietnam War would be a non-issue in a few years, but we will continue to get battered and bruised by the cruel and indefatigable laws of material nature. Srila Prabhupada repeatedly urged his audience that there are inescapable laws of nature the miseries inflicted by our own body and mind, by other living entities, and misfortunes caused by natural disturbances. These tragedies attack tirelessly, birth after birth, giving us no respite.
During the 1971 Indo-Pak tension, a reporter interviewing Srila Prabhupada suddenly panicked when a black out signaled a full-scale war. Fearing imminent death, he pleaded with Srila Prabhupada to urge General Yahya Khan of Pakistan to stop this bloody war. Srila Prabhupada again exposed the ugly reality of death staring at us always war or no war. “Will you not die if there is no war?” challenged Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada explained we are always in danger, and he urged us to make an all round solution to problems of this world by taking to Krishna consciousness.
Are we then to turn a blind eye to the day-to-day crisis of this world?
A DEVOTEE FIGHTS THE TERRORISTS
No! While dealing with them, a spiritual practitioner also addresses the deeper issues of harsh laws of this material world. The frequent disasters can’t be avoided per se. We may successfully ward off one problem only to find another confronting us. This law is as unavoidable and natural as the law of gravity. A devotee of Krishna surely does the needful to address different fleeting problems of this world, while simultaneously working to free himself from the bondage of repeated birth and death.
Mr. Nilesh Ghosalkar, a trained fighter with the Mumbai Police is also a devotee, attending weekly programs and festivals held in the local ISKCON temple. (See BTG March 2009) He was on the frontline, fighting the terrorists in one of the hotels. He humbly sought the blessings of devotees to be able to remember Krishna, while he bravely responded to his call of duty. In the heavy fighting that lasted more than 24 hours, he narrowly survived. He later expressed his confidence that were he to die in the battle, it would have been glorious, because Krishna would have heard the devotees’ prayers, and taken him to the spiritual world. His heroic combat was combined with devotion to Lord Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada explained the need for kshatriyas, the warrior class whose principal duty is to uphold law and order in the society. If an emergency arises, we are not against violence against the terrorists, just as a surgical operation to remove a tumor from the body is not deemed as violence by the suffering patient. In fact the Bhagavad-gita was spoken by Lord Krishna to encourage Arjuna to fight a war to stop the nefarious lawlessness, spread by the evil Kauravas the tumor of the human society then.
KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS GIVES STRENGTH TO COMBAT TRAGEDIES
Krishna consciousness may not stop aggression by the terrorists, betrayal by loved ones, or devastations by tsunamis. A strong spiritual practice, however, can help us survive internally the onslaught of these miseries. As exemplified by Nilesh, life becomes tolerable and hopeful for a devotee because he discovers a tangible purpose in life, to cultivate a relationship with God, and plan his journey to his real home the spiritual world.
The rain of problems will certainly shower unabatedly, but a devotee carries the umbrella of Krishna consciousn practice. This keeps him sane even as events in this world get bizarre by the day. A spiritualist seeking to love God naturally loves all of God’s children fellow humans and even animals. This love helps the devotee rid his heart of all undesirable and negative forces. Through the process of Krishna consciousness, a devotee works to be an instrument of positive change in society. Becoming a devotee of Krishna is then a practical solution to combat tragedies. Gung-ho fiery speeches and tall promises to change the world order will do little good when the human heart is steeped in crass greed, and ruthless drives to gratify one’s own insatiable lust.
After evolving through 8.4 million species of life, the conditioned soul gets a human body. Human life is a rare opportunity to end this cycle of transmigration. Unlike the other species whose life is governed by pre-determined behavioral patterns, the human life offers the soul the power to choose and desire. A human being’s choice to connect to his spiritual nature, his ardent desire to obtain the Lord’s mercy, and his sincere devotional practice ensures that his suffering in this world is for the last time.
HOLY NAME THE REAL PANACEA
The internal purification begins with the vibration of the transcendental sound Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. This chanting not only soothes the mind during troubled times, but also gradually awakens our dormant relationship with Krishna.
kaler dosa-nidhe rajann
asti hy eko mahan gunah
kirtanad eva Krishnasya
mukta-saìgah param vrajet
“…Although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one good quality about this age: Simply by chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom.” (Bhag. 12.3.51)
Srila Prabhupada encouraged us to chant this mantra in the mood of a helpless child calling out to the mother for shelter. Besides, devotees also chant for the welfare of others, and offer heart-felt prayers for the grief-stricken families directly affected by the terrorist attacks.
The Hare Krishna mantra is a sound descending from the spiritual plane. As we connect to this spiritual sound, we learn to transcend immediate emergency issues of this world. Chanting helps us see the myriad events of our daily life in a broader perspective and deal with them maturely.
MORE BLASTS COMING UP
Even as I complete this article, the neighborhood is resounding with deafening blasts and shrieks of a different kind. The Indian cricket team has pulled off a cliffhanger, and a pompous wedding ceremony has Bollywood numbers blaring off the sky. Seems a good reason to rejoice, and forget the terrorism issue. Never mind the thousands dying daily to disease, natural calamities, starvation, and accidents. It also seems Krishna consciousness can wait for the Indians or can it?
Vraja Vihari Dasa, MBA, serves full-time at ISKCON Mumbai, and teaches Krishna consciousness to students in various colleges.